Category Archives: NZ poems

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Best NZ Poems 2020 goes live

Poet Laureate David Eggleton has edited the latest edition of Best NZ Poems 2020. He concludes his introduction with these words:

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much I have on my year-long odyssey for which I didn’t have to leave home. I’m glad to have had the privilege of the journey and its discoveries. Discoveries rather than judgements because poems are essentially playful and deeply wilful and a law unto themselves and won’t be judged. As the American poet Archibald MacLeish put it in his brilliant formulation about the art of poetry: ‘A poem should not mean/ But be.’

I had already read most of the poems – but I loved revisiting them. Poems are like albums; you can put them on replay and they just get better.

Go here for poems, introduction and audios.

Poetry Shelf celebrates new books: Victor Billot reads from The Sets

The Sets, Victor Billot, Otago University Press, 2021

Victor Billot reads ‘The Sets’ from his collection plus two new poems: ‘An Award Winning Campaign’ and ‘The Youngest One’.

Victor Billot was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. He has worked in communications, publishing and the maritime industry. His collection The Sets was published by Otago University Press in February 2021.

In 2020 he was commissioned by the Newsroom website to write a series of political satires in verse and is now embarking on a new series. His poems have been displayed in the Reykjavik City Hall and in Antarctica.

Otago University Press page

Victor’s website

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Poet Laureate David Eggleton picks two Peter Olds poems

The sky turned black as night,
sirens wailed, streetlights blinked
at stalled streets, the air streaked
like some New York modern painting:
Surreal, unreal, leaving high tide
marks of ice in the doorways of
mid-town shops

from ‘Hail & Water ‘ by Peter Olds

Two terrific poems by Peter Olds on The Poet Laureate site

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Going West podcast – Paula Green in conversation with Bill Manhire and Norman Meehan

This is one of my favourite sessions I have chaired ever!

Paula Green, poet, anthologist, reviewer and children’s author, with her newly minted honours and awards, shares the stage in a charming conversation with poet, short story writer and academic Bill Manhire, and jazz composer and performer Norman Meehan, as they disclose the alchemy of setting poetic text as song. They discuss their latest collaboration, the riddle project, Tell Me My Name, and along the way Bill Manhire reads two of his poems Frolic and I am quiet when I call.

This session took place the day after Manhire, Meehan and friends delivered a captivating opening night performance, Small Holes in the Silence for the Going West audience.

Listen here

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Rebecca Hawkes’s ‘Poem about my heart’

Poem about my heart

you have one job
which is to hold this
disturbingly large moth
battering the woven
basket of your fingers

every instinct whirring
to close your fist and crush it
or open your palms
set the gross insect loose
free your hands for other tasks

but this is your job
the having and the holding
the moth fluttering scaly wings
into moon dust that stains your skin
ghastly silver as you do not ask

how did this thing even get in here
just maintain your grasp
on the fragile stupid alien
that flew to your light and would not go
until you caught it and it was yours

Rebecca Hawkes

Rebecca Hawkes is a queer pākehā poet, painter, and PowerPoint slide ghostwriter living in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara. Her chapbook ‘Softcore coldsores’ can be found in AUP New Poets 5. She is co-editor of the journal Sweet Mammalian and an upcoming anthology of climate change poetry, and is a founding member of popstar performance posse Show Ponies. More of Rebecca’s writing and paintings can be found in journals like Starling, Sport, Scum, and Stasis, or online at her vanity mirror.

Poetry Shelf review: Catherine Bagnall & L. Jane Sayle’s ‘on we go’

on we go, Catherine Bagnall and L. Jane Sayles, Massey University Press, 2021

On we go

Empty suitcase made of leaves

and a stomach light as air

just to walk up in the sky

talking with you

Artist Catherine Bagnall grew up between the bush and Wellington harbour’s eastern shore. She lectures at the College of Creative Arts Toi Rauwhārangi, Massey University. L. Jane Sayle was raised on Wellington’s south coast. She has lectured in art and design history, and collected and sold curios and ephemera. This is her debut poetry collection.

Jane was living in Munich and Catherine was in Wellington when they began on we go. It is an exquisite collaboration that matches watercolours with poetry. I had no idea about their working process when I first read the book. I read the images, then read the poetry and finally I read the conjunctions that simmered away between art and text. A magical and unique reading experience. In fact Catherine and Jane exchanged emails but produced the work independently with neither art nor poetry coming first.

Enter the collection and you enter a magical place that resembles a series of open windows and doors, thresholds that lead you to a world that is rendered ethereal, fable-inducing, childlike, dreamy, mysterious. The translucent layers in both the poetry and the images transport you to shadow and light, the familiar and the achingly strange.

I read the watercolours first, finding my way through a forested world peopled with costumed figures that seem part-child part-adult part-animal (rabbits, cats, butterflies). The trees adopt other-worldly shapes, there is a strong sense of playfulness, of acting out, of visual narratives that open wide for you to go meandering. Dream reading. Sometimes the characters are caught mid-movement while at other times they are transfixed in the scene, caught in the middle of reverie. I love the image of the two cats, one larger and one small, one black and one blue, on the doorstep staring out into the ambiguous colour-washed world. I am there on the threshold as reader and am part of the world-gazing. There is a tiny teapot next to the two cats, a miniature marker of the domestic, of curios and collectibles, of rituals that shape a day. On the other side of the page, two figures awkwardly climb into their cat costumes, one tall and one small, one black and one blue, with arms bent and askew, and one reaching out fingertips to touch the threshold, the tree branch, the great big magical wide open world.

The art work is mesmerising, a watery narrative that can never be pinned down to single meanings, dead-end stories. I didn’t discover the mode of working until the endnote. Catherine makes clothes resembling ‘other-ly creatures’ with tails, ears and fur, and wears them into the forest where she archives her experience / performances. These then are translated into the watercolours. I liked reading the images before discovering this, so I hope I haven’t spoiled the pathways for you.

What bird is that?

Between winds

soft sunshine

strands of lemon lichen

across a satin-grey rock bank

and the smell of blackberry

living for the moment

inside the quiet air

on the nameless day

Armed with this fascinating biographical snippet, I then read Jane’s poems wondering if a poet can also make her her own ‘other-ly’ dress-up clothes that she wears into the forest before archiving her performances (so to speak). The elegant poetry achieves the same layering of mystery, etherealness, economy. Enter the layered poems and you draw upon the metaphysical, the ambiguous, the translucent, the metaphorical. The poems are potent, allowing tiny narratives of your own making, with everything delighting in the present tense. We are directed to the small and we are sidetracked to the large. There is vital economy and there is vital plenitude. There are ideas and there are moods. The detail is lush, the sound effects are intricate.

When the poem, ‘On we go’, offers an empty suitcase that is made of leaves, the suitcase itself becomes the point of fascination rather than the contents. And then the whole notion of emptiness pulls you back, and the collection pivots on whatever is there and whatever is not. I see this collaboration as part fable, part fairytale, part response to the knotty world but, more than anything, it is a precious contemplation prompt. A gorgeously-produced handbook to keep in your pocket for times you need that moment of dream and drift and replenishment.

Though we were long gone

all our coats were hanging

on hooks in the hall

How things wait

for us to come back

how they mutely love us

as they fade

from ‘Going back’

Massey University Press page

Sample pages

Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Emma Neale’s ‘Indicator’


All through thin winter

a single yellow-lipped flower

hangs like honeydrip

from the tip of a twig

on the kowhai outside our window.

Now and then a wax-eye

or an eerily silent tūī slips by,

suckles there, each visit so swift

we soon guess the teat’s run dry:

no languid glug of nectar

like those summer-dusty kids,

canter-and-cartwheel parched

at the schoolyard drinking fountain,

when their every mouthful sounds

a grateful, gulping hum

like the rev of a warming engine.

Through ice, hail and fog

this blossom that grips the brink

seems bitter, withered emblem

of what is not; of tense lockdown;

of what cost; futures lost,

the tired earth’s toxin-clogged, wild demise

I even cuss some fossicking birds

as if they’re mad deniers —

boom-times are gone.

Can’t you just goddamn leave

that last poor scrap alone?

Then one cold but blueing morning

I lift the kitchen blind

wait for coffee to send its sun

through the hoar-frost of sleep

to see the whole tree

buckets with its own bright rain

a thousand beak-mouthed flowers

sing the aria of themselves

as if that one yellow blossom

in its winter death clench

was the stoic pilot light

that set the whole tree ablaze

a Kali-armed candelabra

peacocking with gold —

yet this silken dart and glitter

of unbidden happiness —

now grown so unfamiliar —

is it dangerous?

What have I turned my back on

for that moment

it takes a small child

to rush before a speeding van,

slip into an unfenced pool,

for some link in the web to fray

by the time night flows over the tree

as dark as the inside of a body?

Emma Neale

Emma Neale is a Dunedin based writer and editor. The author of 6 novels and 6 collections of poetry, Emma is the current editor of Landfall.

Poetry Shelf noticeboard: Vana Manasiadis in conversation with Nicholas Wright

Go here for details (tickets are free)

λυρικό ελεγείο : Vana Manasiadis in conversation with Nicholas Wright

About this Event

This is the first in our An Evening With Series, hosted at UC Arts at the Arts Centre Christchurch.

Vana Manasiadis’s The Grief Almanac: A Sequel (2019) is, as the title of this talk suggests, deeply involved with the forms of lyric and elegy. Indeed, her volume has been described as a “hybrid of poetry, memoir, letter, essay and ekphrasis” that pushes at the boundaries of poetic form “melding Greek with English, prose with poetry, and the past and present with fantasy and myth”. Do come along to hear Vana talk about the poems in this volume, her thoughts on poetic form, as well as the new work she is writing as Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence, in the University of Canterbury’s English Department.


Vana Manasiadis is a Greek-New Zealand poet and translator who has been moving between Aotearoa and Kirihi Greece the last twenty years. Her most recent book The Grief Almanac: A Sequel, followed her earlier Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima in experimenting with hybridity and pluralism and is being translated into Greek for forthcoming publication in Greece. She has also edited and translated Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια Shipwrecks/Shelters, a selection of contemporary Greek poetry, and co-edited a bilingual volume of poetry, Tatai Whetu, Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation, a Spinoff ‘20 Best Poetry Books of 2018’, with playwright Maraea Rakuraku. Her residency project will include an exploration of translanguage and poetic form, of territory and authority. She will be working on poetic texts in response to various geographies of Christchurch and Canterbury, and on a series of multilingual and multimodal dialogues between exiled speakers.

Nicholas Wright is a lecturer in the English Department, University of Canterbury. He has published on a host of New Zealand poets, and is currently working on a book of essays on the contemporary lyric in Aotearoa.